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BREAKING: Court forces Ohio to allow most illegally purged voters to cast ballots

The ruling is a major victory for voting rights groups who had sued the state.

A primary election voter casts a provisional ballot at a polling place in Westerville, Ohio. CREDIT: AP Photo/ Matt Rourke
A primary election voter casts a provisional ballot at a polling place in Westerville, Ohio. CREDIT: AP Photo/ Matt Rourke

A federal district court ruled Wednesday night that Ohio must allow most of the voters illegally purged from the rolls to vote in this year’s presidential election using provisional ballots.

“ If those who were unlawfully removed from the voter rolls are not allowed to vote, then the Secretary of State is continuing to to disenfranchise voters in violation of federal law,” Judge George Smith warned.

Though the state’s Republican leaders had argued last week that they should only have to restore the voting rights of those purged last year and those who haven’t moved since they last registered to vote, the court’s order is much broader.

Now, anyone purged since 2011 as well as anyone who has moved within the same county will be able vote.

“Moving down the street shouldn’t mean someone’s vote is thrown away,” Mike Brickner with the American Civil Liberties Union told ThinkProgress.

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Additionally, the state has to send notification to any purged voter who requested an absentee ballot that they may vote in person using a provisional ballot either early or on Election Day.

A higher court ruled back in September that Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State John Husted violated the National Voter Registration Act by purging nearly 2 million voters from its rolls over the past five years. While some of this group were removed legitimately because they died or left the state, many were purged simply because they skipped a few federal elections.

An investigation by Reuters earlier this year found that low-income, black, and Democratic voters were disproportionately purged. The study found that in Ohio’s major cities, including Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, voters have been removed from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at about twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods.

With the crucial swing state already a week into its early voting period, voting rights advocates in the state are cheering the court’s decision, but expressing fear that because of the late news, voters have already been disenfranchised.

“It’s imperative that election officials and voters have clarity on this ASAP,” Brickner said. “People may just been realizing now that they’ve been illegally purged. We need the information to get out as quickly as possible.”